X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier

Kieran Curran

Chock-a-block with references to key Generation X formational moments, Gordinier attempts to define what it means to belong to that group, and where the boundary blurs with Generation Y.

X Saves the World

Publisher: Penguin
Subtitle: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking
Author: Jeff Gordinier
Length: 224
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143115151
US publication date: 2009-01

As flannel shirts come back into fashion and jaded pessimists turn into local micro-activists (hello blogosphere!), a book on Generation X is oddly timely. X Saves The World, an extended book version of two magazine articles by the author, traces the beginning of X in the late '80s, its morphing into the Y generation, and its lingering effects in the land of now (including Barack Obama). The book is written in a free-wheeling, pop-py style, similar to Chris Turner's tome Planet Simpson, a treatise on the brilliance of Springfield (the fictional one) and its favourite family.

Like that particular book, Jeff Gordinier's radiates relentless enthusiasm for referencing literary sources, personal anecdotes, TV, pop and alternative lyrics and philosophy, whilst maintaining a breezy, readable pace. For example, T.S. Eliot's “The Love Song Of Alfred J. Prufrock” is mentioned, the author's experience of the baby boomer nostalgia-fest of Woodstock 1994 is recounted, Stephen Colbert's “roasting” of George W. Bush is lionised and a lyric of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo is used in a section intro (any inclusion of Jay Farrar's lyrics is fine by me, incidentally).

Out of this referential melting pot, the book transmits a relentless enthusiasm for Generation X itself, and its cynical, jaded attitude which emphasises the importance of the role of the slacker. Far from being a term of derision, Gordinier quotes film-maker Richard Linklater's positive definition of the term: a slacker is someone "responsible to themselves." From a multitude of popular and somewhat unpopular jump-off points, Gordinier waxes enthusiastically on the multi-faceted nature of Generation X, and his positivity for its cultural output (before capitalist forces and their associated homogenisation got in the way) is certainly infectious.

The tangential nature of Gordinier's approach makes his work an enjoyable, easy read, but also somewhat frustrating. The multitude of bite-sized references are tasty, but not all that nourishing. Also, the oppositional "X = good, Y = bad" dichotomy is a tad over the top. An example: the retreat from fame undertaken by Eddie Vedder after the massive mainstream popularity of Pearl Jam is praised, but the bombastic elements of their early music, and the over-earnest portentousness of much of their latter output is ignored. For a columnist and cultural critic, there seems to be a distinct lack of critique in dealing with some of X's more questionable aspects.

Gordinier is fond of quoting Douglas Coupland also, yet when referencing his earlier novel "Generation X" he chooses to omit any of the negative characteristics of its characters, such as their self absorption and pretentiousness. Yet when referencing "Shampoo Planet," he chooses to call to attention to the vacuity of its protaganist's apparent Y generation induced materialistic attitude. Again, "X = good, Y = bad." On another Coupland inspired tip, Gordinier creates the term "cooler king moments" so as to describe moments in popular culture that grasp the zeitgeist, yet are uncharacteristic of other hollow aspects of the dominant mainstream. Again, his enthusiasm is admirable, but the term itself is clunky, and appears to be a vain attempt to coin a phrase á la Mister Coupland, who gave the world succinct terms to describe the social and cultural practices of X-ers (the abandonment of a linear career progression in favour of a succession of casual “McJobs,” for instance).

Additionally, in opting for no set definition of what Generation X is apart from "people born between 1960 and 1974" and a flimsy questionnaire, it renders the sensibility even more vague, and by selectively quoting the output of those in popular culture who fit into the X mould, he ignores the more populist and enthusiastically capitalist aspects of that same generation. And not to sound too jaded, but recounting the story yet again of Nirvana's apparent triumph against “corporate rock” is in itself an overdone cliché. Oh, those halcyon days!

On a more casual level, the work succeeds, and it is readable for aforementioned reasons. There will be books written on this generation in a more systematic way (and no doubt there already have been), but the more scattershot (in terms of delivery) message of the importance of X's scepticism and cynicism has some resonance. Indeed, the final chapter of the book which looks at Barack Obama's subtle but valuable cynical realism and the rise of anti-Establishment pedagogues like Fritz Haeg (a cynical idealist) is the most fascinating, as it is not as cluttered with references or enthusiastic nostalgia as earlier sections. Overall it is a book to pick and choose tidbits out of, and at 189 pages, not all that comprehensive.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.